How to Get Your Significant Other on Board!
By: Chelsea Murray CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, CTDI
For dog fanciers, our dogs become an integral part of the family and there is nothing more painful than when your family doesn’t get along. Many of my clients live in a home where they are the primary caregiver for the dog, developing a very strong relationship. But what happens when the other most important relationship in your life, your partner, isn’t on board with the same level of care or training that you want? Or what if the dog drives your partner nuts? This type of conflict within a home can be exhausting and stressful for all involved.
Every person has their own experiences and personality traits. And while you are unlikely to be able to change who your partner is at their core, you can change the way you train the dog and increase support for your partner to set them both up for success.
Set Your Partner Up for Success
There are many things we can do to help set our partner up for success. On days I know I will be out of the house when my partner works from home, I stuff several food puzzles and put them in the freezer. This reduces the amount of work he needs to do all while still allowing the dogs to have appropriate energy outlets. Treat jars are also placed around the home to provide easy access for him to reward the dogs for recall from the back yard. So, while I may still put in the bulk of the initial training work, he can help the dogs generalize the behavior and increase the likelihood of response to his voice.
Think about your routine and what practices might be involved in the day to day. Setting equipment out, prepping food or puzzles, and even exercising the dogs yourself before leaving can help reduce the workload for your partner and make it easier for them to care for the dogs, improving their feelings about them.
How many times have you or your partner had to repeat what was said after hearing a “wait, what did you say?” In our world of technology, we often have a screen in front of us. Unfortunately, no matter how good we think we are, people are not good multi-taskers. If something important needs to be done about the dog, make sure all parties are fully engaged. Speak clearly and disclose what needs to be done. Often as humans we bury the punchline with a lot of “don’t do this” or “this should have been done” and other extraneous details. Avoid using too many words and instead make directions very clear “Can you let the dogs out at noon and then give a Kong?” Clear and concise communication will improve your partners ability to follow the directions and will make sure everyone is on the same page.
Find Common Ground
Building a more peaceful household also means that everyone has some common ground. Finding activities that everyone can enjoy together can be helpful as you build or rebuild relationships. For example, if your partner likes hiking, try going on a family hike. You can walk the dog and they can just enjoy the walk. You can demonstrate what you would like by reinforcing desired skills and then hand a few treats over to your partner just in case. It’s possible to incorporate training opportunities into many other activities, such as training a settle during dinner preparation or a movie.
Train Out the Triggering Moments
In all households there are usually a few canine behaviors that are more irritating to one person than the other. I find that these moments of stress are often better tolerated by the primary caregiver and can even lead to fights between you and your partner. Think of specific moments in your life that might cause your partner stress. Is there anything you can do about that? For example, if your partner gets annoyed when the dogs hover around the table, work on teaching settle on a mat. While the skill is in the building process, increase management to help set the dogs up for success and reduce your partners stress level. Minimizing the amount of stress triggering moments can help improve your partner’s viewpoint on the dogs.
Get Some Professional Training
Sometimes, especially when two people might be in conflict, hearing advice is hard. No matter how good that advice might be it can be clouded in stress. Getting a certified professional involved can be very helpful so that partners can hear that advice and receive input from a third party. Sometimes, when partners have different opinions on training methods, it can be helpful for a trained professional to offer advice on how to incorporate different elements of training or on how to help owners avoid a situation where conflicting training may lead to poor outcomes. Attending group classes of any kind (including trick classes) can be a great way for the dog and your partner to do something fun together and learn how to communicate. In many cases as well, this can improve the dog’s response to known cues from the partner, which goes a long way in reducing overall stress.
Catch Good Moments and Reinforce Them!
Even when the relationship between your partner and the dog is in a rebuilding phase, there will be moments of greatness. Often, especially when we are stressed, we tend to focus on problems and ignore the positives. Instead, work on observing and finding small moments where you can offer some words of affirmation. These can be small moments where some appropriate petting happens or if your partner proactively lets the dogs outside. Saying something as small as “thank you” or “that was so great” can go a long way to boosting your partner’s confidence in their interactions with the dog, leading to more positive outcomes in the future.
At the end of the day, there is only so much behavior that you can modify in someone else, especially if they do not want the change. However, more often I find that partners generally want similar positive outcomes for their dogs and lives, but miscommunication and an inability to identify problem areas and find solutions gets in the way. No one wants conflict and dog training plans can be modified and improved to better mesh with our human partnerships. Working on identifying problem areas, setting your dog and your partner up for success, and finding moments of growth to reinforce can help decrease the conflict in the home. Remember, any behavior you reinforce is more likely to happen again!